U.S. Ambassador Killed In Attack In Libya
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
We are exercising caution this morning about reports coming out of Libya regarding an attack on the U.S. consulate in the city of Benghazi. What we know is that at least one American was killed in that attack yesterday. What we do not know for certain at this moment is the identity of the American or Americans who were killed.
We are following widespread reports that the U.S. ambassador there was among the dead. Libyan officials are saying that. However, we've heard nothing from U.S. officials at this moment and we have no confirmation of that at this time.
Let's talk about what we do know with NPR's Leila Fadel. She's following the story of a couple of attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in the Middle East. She's in Egypt. And Leila, let's start with this consulate in Benghazi. As far as we know, what happened there?
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, yesterday an extremist militant group attacked the embassy with RPGs, gunfire, and burned it. They were able to overpower security forces and enter that embassy and ransack it. What's unclear right now is how many Americans were actually killed inside. Libyan officials are saying that the U.S. ambassador, Chris Stevens, who was the first envoy to Libya with the rebels last year, was among the dead, suffocated to death in the conflict. But we have been unable to confirm that with U.S. officials so far.
INSKEEP: He's a significant official in recent Libyan history. I mean in addition to being in the U.S. ambassador, he was someone or is someone - let's speak of him in present tense until we know more - someone who has been quite close to the Libyan revolutionaries.
FADEL: Yes, he was in Benghazi in the early days of that revolt when things were still unsafe, when it was still unclear if Moammar Gadhafi - the late Moammar Gadhafi was going to leave power. He was very well-connected with the Libyan leadership at the time, the Libyan opposition leadership at a time. And then was reappointed as the U.S. ambassador. He was seen as an ally. And him, along with other Western leaders, Western diplomats in the area, were celebrated when they came to Benghazi, as a sign that the world was on the side of the opposition.
INSKEEP: And let's emphasize again, despite widespread reports from Libyan officials, we have no confirmation of his status - the ambassador's status.
That attack in Libya and another one on the U.S. embassy in Cairo were both sparked - we're told, anyway - by the same event, the same film out of the United States. What is at the root of this?
FADEL: Well, this film is a low-budget film. It was a trailer that was posted on YouTube in English, and then dubbed into Arabic. And it was broadcast on some pretty conservative fundamentalist Islamist channel here in Egypt. And it sparked a lot of outrage among all Muslims, but the most extreme of which went to protest outside the U.S. embassy.
Most people here understand that it's not a government project, that it's just some film coming out of California from a director who does not like Muslims and does not like Islam. It escalated in Libya well beyond what they did here in Cairo, where they ripped down an American flag, were able to get into the embassy parameters here. But it's also a very disturbing sign of what - of the situation, of security around these embassies.
You know, this is a - in Egypt - Egypt is a very serious ally with the United States. Libya, the United States had hoped, would become a new ally. So it's unclear how much this is going to affect that relationship going forward.
INSKEEP: Unclear how it's going to affect that relationship. How have the governments in Libya and Egypt responded to these attacks by their citizens against U.S. facilities?
FADEL: The Libyan government has strongly condemned it. The Egyptian government also has condemned the attack, saying that they will secure the embassies here. I know that they're working with American officials to make sure that security is reinstated here in Egypt. Military and riot police were brought out, some people say a little bit too late when things had already escalated too far.
But I just don't know if the U.S. consulate in Benghazi can continue to function when it really was attacked so viciously.
INSKEEP: Leila, thanks very much.
FADEL: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Leila Fadel in Egypt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.